By October 11, 2010

Virgin Mobile VM800 Review

Virgin Media VM800 Here we have one of Alcatel’s latest mobile handsets, the VM800 now this one is the virgin media version but there are sim free versions that go by the name OT-800. As there are so many mobile phones manufacturers producing entry level handsets these days how will this with its full QWERTY keypad cope?

Intrigued? Read on to find out more.

 

10 second review

  • Product: Alcatel VM800
  • Price: £49.99 with£10 airtime on pay as you go from Virgin Mobile, also free from £10 on Virgin Mobile.
  • Summary: A very basic handset with a brilliant QWERTY keyboard but has an overall cheap feel to it.
  • Best of: QWERTY Keypad, very simple interface and its cheap price tag.
  • Worst of: Bulky, no 3G or Wi-Fi, screen too small.
  • Buy it now from: Virgin Mobile UK.

 

What’s in the Box?

  • VM800 Handset
  • USB Charger
  • Standard USB to Mini USB sync/charge cable
  • Headphones with in-line push button & Volume wheel
  • SIM pack
  • Quick start guide
  • Alcatel PC suite software

 

VM800 Product Specification:

  • Display: TFT, 256K colors, 320 x 240 pixels, 2.2 inches
  • Dimensions: 111 x 58.2 x 13.9 mm
  • Weight: 103 g
  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 1800 / 1900
  • 20MB internal memory
  • MicroSD card slot up to 4GB
  • Camera: 2 MP, 1600×1200 pixels
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 850 mAh
  • Stand-by: Up to 450 h
  • Talk time: Up to 9 h
  • Music play: Up to 35 h
  • Browser: WAP 2.0 / xHTML (Opera mini)
  • Bluetooth: v2.0 with A2Dp
  • GPRS: Class 12 (4+1/3+2/2+3/1+4 slots), 32 – 48 kbps
  • USB: 2.0

 

General

On the top of the handset there’s absolutely nothing to see.

But on the left hand side of the handset there is the MicroSD slot with a protective flap covering it.

IMG_1542

 

The right side of the phone contains the MiniUSB connector with protective flap and right below that is what Alcatel describe as the Side key, very minimal description really but I will elaborate more when I get to the review.

IMG_1541

 

The bottom of the device holds nothing either other than the little gap in the design to allow for the back cover to be removed easily.

IMG_1543

 

On the back of the phone is the loudspeaker and just above that is the 2 megapixel camera.

IMG_1540

 

Finally on the front of the device is where Alcatel have packed everything, at the top is another loudspeaker, below this is the 2.2 inch 240×320 display. Then right below this is the Virgin Media logo and then a series of push buttons, from the left there is the call button, Message key, the left soft key and the right in between all of the buttons is the navigation key which has a d-pad and a push button in the middle for access to menus and navigation through them. Next to this is the right soft key, camera button and end call/back button.

IMG_1535

 

 

Review

Here I have a handset that I didn’t even know I was receiving at first until it came in the post! So as you can imagine when I received it I was straight away opening it up to see what I would find, what I found was (Although it is a very striking pink) a good looking yet very bulky handset with a surprising QWERTY keyboard as well so it was all looking good at that point that is until I began to use the phone on a daily basis and I will try to explain that comment as the review progresses.

IMG_1537

The build quality of the device is actually quite good especially when you consider the small price tag that it has over its head, at £49.99 including £10 you receive a phone that feels as though a lot of effort has gone into making it as strong as possible as it also doesn’t feel like a cheap quickly put together mobile which is brilliant to be honest. Very impressed with the overall build quality and one of the main reasons for this is because I am surprised by it.

I will move onto the design on the phone now and apart from the QWERTY keypad being fantastically spaced out and brilliant to use also the design is nothing short of weird! I mean why put essentially 7 push buttons on the front of the device? Seems a little odd don’t you think? And as for the ‘Side key’ it is quite frankly the most pointless button/wheel I’ve seen on a mobile device to date, when you aren’t using the music player it allows you to scroll through internet pages and menus and ONLY when you use the music player, FM radio or watch a Video can you use this as a volume control option. Now I don’t know about you guys reading this but I personally think that for one thing this is very dated design methods and secondly I really like a up/down volume rocker or like the iPhone 4 sports now an up button and a down button for volume control, so overall apart from the keypad the design isn’t very good in my overall opinion.

As you can probably tell by now I am not particularly fond of the way that Alcatel have designed this phone’s exterior, but my opinions improve a lot when talking about the user interface of the handset. If I could describe the interface in one word the word that I would use in every scenario is…Simplicity. The home screen is simple and effective even though the screen is a mere 2.2 inches it displays images and words very nicely so that everything is simple to read, to access the phones’ menu screen is very simple as there is a shortcut on the home screen that takes you right to it, when the menu appears you are greeted with a lovely bright and well displayed set of icons that are very simple to identify even without the names as the pictures are well thought out because they all look like they should do so for example the message icon is an envelope as also within this section is the e-mail application, and this theme is much the same with all of the other icons in the menu as everything is just so simple as you will see with the pictures below.

clip_image016pic 2

A very important section of any mobile phone is the settings menu and with the VM800 this section is well thought out and easy to navigate also, it’s laid out in bullet points that cover everything from display settings right through to connectivity right at the bottom of the page; one thing to realise though is that each initial settings shortcut has another set of settings within them so as an example the display shortcut brings about things like brightness settings and backlight settings which are both very simple to change as is everything else within the settings itself. I believe that the User interface is an overall pleasant looking and very simple to use which impressed me while I was testing the device so a big thumbs up here! Below you will see a series of pictures relating to the settings menus and the different section that exist within the interface.

pic 5

pic 4 pic 3

I would like now to move onto the internet browsing functions of the phone, now as with any entry level handset that you buy today you really shouldn’t expect anything other than average at best internet browsing and with this handset this is no different. The phone has the Opera Mini internet browser built in which admittedly makes browsing on 2G network a little less of an annoyance but again the experience is all down to the network signal that you receive which with Virgin Mobile in this case they rely on T-mobile coverage which in some areas such as mine is pretty awful. Browsing using Opera itself can be extremely slow as I’ve already mentioned but providing the phone has 3 bars of signal or more then the browser actually works really well, it loads web pages relatively quickly but the downside to having Opera is that there is 1 zoom option and that takes you so close to the writing on screen that you have to scroll for ages trying to navigate through the whole web page which gets really frustrating after a while, when a page has loaded also Opera doesn’t load it so that it is readable when the picture is full screen. I have taken a picture of a loaded web page which in the case below is tracyandmatt.co.uk and you will see that there is a black square on screen, this is where the user must choose where to zoom in to and the black square is the amount of the screen that will be available to the user when zoomed; a very poor point in my opinion but to a lot of people they won’t really mind as Opera is quite fast overall.

pic10 pic 11

The Opera Mini browser has been around for quite a while now and has become quite popular with a lot of people worldwide so it’s not hard to see why Alcatel have chosen this to integrate into this phone but you do definitely have to question why not give the phone 3G and a slightly higher price tag? It would make the phone a lot more sellable to the public as 3G is now all that people expect with mobile phones as it has again vastly become a brilliant network type for all mobile phone operators, but I would guess that budget has caused this phone just to have 2G network capabilities as opposed to 3G as well so you could forgive Alcatel for that I suppose.

There is another way to browse the internet on this handset and that is through the ‘My One Touch’ homepage which is Virgin’s mobile site which opens via the mobile’s built in browser which to be honest is only good for this site as it runs so slowly. The site contains things like ‘your account’ to check your minutes, texts and internet bundles remaining for your month or your top up remaining, also on the page is ‘today’s’ news headlines from the BBC which is a nice addition when you are out and about you can check the news at your pleasure. Below is a picture of this page to show you what it’s like.

pic 12 pic 13

Moving on from internet browsing to the social networking integration within the phone, there are a number of pre-installed social networking links including Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and Bebo. I have only been able to test Facebook as I don’t have an account to any of the other sites and I will say that the facebook application is very basic and I would even go as far to say that for me personally it’s unusable because it’s just awful, this is because it is too basic meaning that the layout is poor as it feels almost messy as though Alcatel have just said ‘oh gosh we’ve forgotten to put social networking into the phone, lets chuck one in at the last minute’ now I know that sounds a little harsh but for me it was so disappointing to see such a poor effort at a facebook application, I’ve seen much better on cheaper phone than this to be honest.

Below is a picture of the application to hopefully show you what it looks like so that you can give your own opinions on it.

pic 6 pic 7

Now I’ve had my little moan I will move onto the music player, unfortunately this is another poor feature to the device mainly because it is yet again too basic, if you read my last review on the LG GS290 you will have noticed that it has a very similar price tag to this phone and has a pretty good music player so I am struggling to understand why there would be such a huge difference between phones in the market today. The reason that this music player is poor is because the sound is really tinny no matter what equalizer setting you have on or how loud or soft you have the sound it still sounds awful, I will mention though that the sound being bad could well be down to the headphones that come with the phone as these were the only MiniUSB pair that I had access to so I have nothing to compare them to really, the one good thing about the music player though is that unlike other entry level phones it does allow you to change the equalizer settings which can be a plus or a minus depending on the type of music, headphones etc you listen to at the time. The choices for the settings are: Normal, rock, pop, classic, dance, bass, party and treble so as you can see there is quite a lot of choice for such a cheap phone, when listening to music you are generally going to want to see a nice interface or at least see the album artwork but in this player you get a slightly poor attempt at a Windows Media player like Visualization with the bars going up and down in time with the music but with this one it doesn’t always keep up with the music so it looks a little weird, there are 3 different layout options: Spectrum, Lyric and Song Info. Spectrum is the visualization one, and then lyric is the visualization with the song info at the top and the song info is just a blank CD with the track information to the right hand side of it.

As well as the built in music player there is also a very nice little FM radio, I have to be honest and say that after being very disappointed with the music player I wasn’t expecting the radio to be any good at all but you know what it really is! At first thought I was very sceptical because to be able to play the radio the phone requires the provided USB headphones which as you already know performed awfully with the music playback, so as you can probably guess I wasn’t looking forward to testing the radio out but I was so surprised by the clarity and sheer quality of the application! It even makes the headphones sound great which to be honest made me think that Alcatel have gone wrong somewhere because it’s almost as though the FM radio is the music player and the music player is the radio because usually with budget handsets these days the FM radio performs poorly and the music player is the rare great thing but with the VM800 from Alcatel it’s the exact opposite! The interface is a chic and simple one that is simple to navigate and even simpler to save radio stations as the device does it for you, I found the searching process so easy that I had found all of my local radio stations and the standard Radio 1, 2 etc within 5 minutes! Amazing! When a station is found the phone automatically stores them as 1, 2, 3, 4 etc so that when listening to the radio if you fancy a change then all you have to do is press one of the numbers to navigate to a different station. There are a couple of pretty awesome features built into the radio that I think other people will agree with and the coolest of them is the fact that you can exit the radio whilst listening and still essentially ‘multitask’ basically the phone allows you to leave the radio running whilst you navigate through the rest of the phone so for example I could send a text message at the same time as listening to radio 1. Another cool but not amazing feature built into the radio is the ability to record a radio show directly to the phone for playback at a later time, the feature itself is a majorly cool idea but the actual application isn’t great at all.

Moving onto a more interesting section for the younger population now, games! Built into this device are 2 pretty good games called Ball and Motorboat and both of them use the phone’s motion sensor to great effect, I was hoping to bring you a video of each of them to let you see them in action but I couldn’t get the recording to a high enough quality so instead I have a couple of screenshots for you below.

pic 8 pic 9

As you can see in the above screenshots of the 2 games there is a ball in the bottom right hand corner in the left picture and a little man on a speedboat in the other, the aim of Ball is to navigate the ball past the black holes and drop it into the flashing green one, collecting the little gold balls in process to collect more points. The game works really well and very closely resembles both Teeter from the HTC Hero and Labyrinth from the iPod/iPhone range and I must say it is quite a surprise to see such a cheap to buy handset utilizing a motion sensor as I personally haven’t seen a phone in this price range have one before now.

Onto Motorboat now and the aim of this game is to again navigate the boat past obstacles like logs, rocks and to collect the various coloured coins in the process, the game runs really well again and is a nice little addition to an overall pretty cool phone, and the games I think a lot of people will really enjoy and become quite addicted to if they owned this phone because in the time that I had the phone I got addicted to Ball in particular so if I can get addicted then I think anyone will to be honest.

The next feature that I’d like to talk in detail about is the camera, I will mention that I’m no photography guru but the camera and the features have surprised me, this is because when I saw that it only had a 2 mega pixel camera I was immediately sceptical about what the picture quality would be like but I must say that using the various settings within the camera was quite a nice experience for the most part as I was able to take a few decent photos as you will see in the pictures below.

When using the camera there are some highs and some lows but I was expecting them because to start with the phone is under £50 and it isn’t designed specifically to be a camera phone but there are definitely some good points to it.

I will begin with the camera’s good points as I think that it is actually one of the better features to the phone, so to begin with one of the better points is that there are quite a number of different settings to play around which in an entry level handset you really don’t expect to be getting most of them so a big plus point here.

One of the settings that I thought was good is night mode, you simply select whether you want it on or off, when I first used this setting when taking a photograph I wasn’t really expecting a major change in picture quality between when it is turned on and off but I was really surprised as I found that night mode is the number 1 best feature within the camera as you will see in the pictures I’ve taken for you.

Below you will see the difference between taking a photo in low light conditions with night mode off and with night mode on:

IMG0011A IMG0013A

The next setting I found to be very useful and always do when using a camera is the exposure mode, it ranges from -4 to +4, what these exposure settings mean is that the -4 settings is the lowest light setting and +4 is the highest light setting and these would usually require changing when light is lower than usual or higher than normal. I have prepared a few pictures to show you which are below this text to show you the difference between the lowest exposures, -4 to the highest exposure +4, the picture in the middle is 0 exposure which is what I tend to use in good lighting conditions.

IMG0027A IMG0029A IMG0028A

The last couple of settings that I thought were quite cool were colour mode of which there are too many settings to even attempt to explain but in basic terms colour mode settings allow users to change the picture colour completely but also can allow users to create an ageing affect within the pictures but creating the feeling that a picture was taken many years ago. The other setting is white balance of which there are again a number of settings that do give the ability to customize any pictures that are taken because what the white balance settings do is change lighting conditions that depend heavily on the weather conditions.

There is the opportunity to take portraits of yourself or you with friends by using the little mirror on the back of the phone that is connected to the lens although it is a little small it is possible just to take a self portrait, there is also self timer which come in the following choices of time before the camera takes the photo: 5 seconds, 10 seconds and 15 seconds. I found this setting very simple to use and also quite useful to use as most standard mainstream digital cameras come with the choices of 2 seconds and 10 seconds.

As you will have noticed in this section of the review the camera that this phone possesses is actually pretty good so the downsides are massively outweighed by the upsides but I do have to mention the downsides and the main downside that I found was that the camera only has a fixed focus lens which is very basic and is usually seen in most of the cheaper phones these days, this I found quite disappointing as I take a lot of close up pictures, but I must mention again that to be honest the people who are likely to buy this phone are going to be quite young so to be able to take a picture on their mobile phone in the first place is probably going to feel like heaven so to have a camera in a phone this cheap that performs so well is a very impressing thing. There are however another couple of quite poor features mainly stemming from the fact that the camera is a mere 2 megapixel which means that resolution levels available aren’t very varied the order that you can choose to take a picture with is as follows: 1600×1200, 1280×1024, 640×480 and 320×240, there is some level of zoom available but only if you select a resolution 640×480 or lower.

Along with the still images feature there is a video recording function built in, I will mention to begin with that although video recording is definitely possible with the device I wouldn’t recommend using the function unless you have no other means of recording video and the only reason I say this is because to put it lightly it’s rubbish! The settings for the video recording are much the same as for the still images to be honest as there isn’t a single setting that does anything different so for that reason I won’t tell you any more really because I feel that it is an unworthy feature for me to continue with.

Now for the 2 standard features that users expect to work well with any phone no matter whether the phone costs £10 or £500 and they are of course calling and texting.

The first thing that you notice when you go to write a text message is how utterly brilliant the QWERTY keypad is and when you consider once again that you are getting a physical keypad on a cheaper handset then you realise how good it actually is! I as so many other mobile phone users around the world am a major fan of having a QWERTY keypad on my phone so when I found that this phone has a great one I was a very happy man. The keypad and messaging application are both just as simple and pleasurable to use as a Blackberry handset and I honestly think that this is because of the well designed layout and character spacing on the keypad. There is really only one word for text messaging and that is…Brilliance!

Onto the call quality of the handset now and to be honest with you I am not really the best person to talk about this because of the area that I live in, what I mean is that Virgin mobile and T-Mobile don’t have great signal where I’m situated so signal strength is never strong and to be honest I was lucky to get any at all when in my house. In my local town however I did manage to get 3 bars of signal which I found was more than enough to make a quick phone call and the first thing that I noticed is that the call quality was really good, I was pleasantly surprised really considering that I’ve had some awful experiences with entry level handsets in the past with calls being dropped and not being able to hear the person on the other end of the phone, but with this device none of these problems were existent at all which pleased me greatly as I was able to have an interference free phone call.

Here I am again at the end of another of my reviews and as with my previous few I will mention the phone’s battery life, with this device I wasn’t really able to give an anywhere near exact number of hours as I wasn’t able to use the phone for calls and texts that often when I was in the house but when I was outside and using it frequently just playing games and texting etc I managed to get a solid 3-4 days out of a 100% charge which I honestly found to be not surprising considering the size of the phone and battery, so I was overall impressed.

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Conclusion

The VM800 from Virgin Mobile is an overall good attempt to make a cheap, blackberry like handset that has a pretty good camera and FM radio. I have been really quite impressed by this phone because when you look at who have made the phone (Alcatel) and the bulkiness of the device you can be forgiven for thinking that it’s one of the less pretty phones around today but when you start to use it regularly you realise that Alcatel have done a pretty good job and the phone performs admirably in many situations.

I do think that the phone is aimed at the younger population and I also think that it will have a lot of success mainly because of its striking colour which is clearly for the female population but also because of the pretty cool features that are packed into it too.

 

Review by: Chris

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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